Another Barcelona weekend.

Vic i Barcelona 081 I can’t get enough of Barcelona. Nunca me cansaré de Barcelona.

There’s just something about the atmosphere there that I love. While I don’t think I could live there due to all the tourists, I do visit at least once a year to practice my Catalán and to remind myself of what it’s like to dream. Hay algo del ambiente de Barcelona que me encanta. Aunque creo que hay demasiados turistas para poder vivir allí, visito al menos una vez cada año para practicar mi català y recordarme lo que es soñar. 

I booked my flights out of Barcelona so I could have an excuse to spend some time there before and after my Semana Santa trip. It was a long 8 hour bus ride from Bilbao in the rain, but as soon as I got off the bus at BCN Sants, where it was NOT raining, I felt right back at home. He comprado los vuelos desde Barcelona para tener una excusa quedar unos días antes y después de mis vacaciones de Semana Santa. Era un largo 8 horas desde Bilbao a Barcelona en la lluvia, pero cuando me bajé del autobus en Sants, donde no estaba lloviendo, me sentí como si estuviera en casa. 

I found my AirBNB apartment, left my stuff, and I found a dog park nearby where I stayed to play with some of those canine friends I love so much. A cheap dinner of patatas bravas at a place I’ve already forgotten, and a night at Punto BCN and Arena disco…not too late, but it is a tradition to go there. Arena is the first gay disco I ever went to back in 2003, and it is a tradition to go there. Encontré el alojomiento de AirBNB, dejé mis cosas y encontré un parque para perros cerca donde me alojé y jugé mucho con los amigos perros que me encantan tanto. Una cena de patatas bravas y una noche en Punto BCN y Arena…no me quedé muy tarde, pero es una tradición ir allí. Arena es la primera disco que fui en el año 203, y es tradición ir allí. 

Sunday I slept in and strolled down Gran Vía leisurely from Rocafort after a great breakfast close to the metro Rocafort. I had a cheap lunch before meeting up with a friend who lives in Barcelona at Poble Nou, a place I hadn’t been to before. It’s a great neighbourhood and close to the beach. It doesn’t have all the tourist that the centre has. Dormí tarde domingo, fui por un paseo por Gran Via desde Rocafort después de un buen desayuno en _____ que está a lado del metro. Almorcé barato antes de quedar con un amigo quien vive en Barcelona en Poble Nou, un sitio que no conocía antes. Es un barrio chulo, a lado de la playa y no tiene tantos turistas como el centro. 

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I saw Rent in Catalán on their closing night, which was a fantastic show (more to come). I was sad, as always, to leave on Monday morning to the airport. Fui a ver Rent en català en su última noche, que era genial (más por venir). Me entristicé, como siempre, dejar lunes por la mañana para ir al aeropuerto.

More problems at the airport due to some French air strike. I am thankful for a delay, as the following day were the attacks in Brussels. I didn’t know anything about what was to come, but I saw a lot more of the Prat airport than I had wanted to! Tenía más problemas en el aeropuerto dado del huelga francesa. Pero estoy agradecido por un retraso, como el día siguente fueron los atentados en Bruselas. No sabía que iba a venir, pero sí, vi más del aeropuerto de Prat que quería.

Barcelona is always a great place to visit. I just can’t get enough of this city. Visca Barcelona 🙂 Barcelona siempre es un sitio chulo para visitar. Nunca es suficiente de esta ciudad. Visca Barcelona! 🙂 

Another weekend in Catalunya.

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I’ve been toying with the idea of a summer in Catalunya for a while, long enough to be able to find some bus tickets (round trip/return) for only 10€ from Bilbao to Barcelona for this weekend (May 14-16). I had two interviews lined up for Friday, and I have to say, I was quite impressed with Barcelona (as always) and even more with the professionalism found in how they conduct interviews. Lately I’ve been receiving messages on Whatsapp demanding I connect to Skype that very instant so they could interview me, Skype interviews being unconfirmed or them not showing up, and the like. So kudos for that. He estado pensando en pasar el verano en Catalunya durante un rato ahora, durante tanto tiempo que aproveché una oferta de ALSA en un viaje de ida/vuelta por solo 10€ de Bilbao a Barcelona para este fin de semana (el 14-16 de mayo). Tenía dos entrevistas el viernes, y tengo que decir que me ha impresionado Barcelona (como siempre), esta vez por el profesionalismo de las entrevistas. Ultimamente tenido las experencias de recibir mensajes por Whatsapp exigiendo que conecte yo en el momento para una entrevista, sin cita previa o aviso previo, entrevistas nunca confirmados o entrevistas donde la persona no pareció, y más experencias así. Enhorabuena a Barcelona por su profesionalismo. 

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After my Friday interviews, I had a very great (and cheap) meal at Si b moi located near the Badal metro stop, which is close to the famous Camp Nou. I had never actually been to Camp Nou, and I was quite excited to finally see where my second favourite fútbol club plays (I am louder with Barça than I am with València given that I am also quite anti-Real Madrid, who doesn’t just care about València CF. Barça will annoy!). I was quite emotional and still hope to see a game played here one day. I still miss my fave players David Villa and Cesc Fàbregas though. Después de las entrevistas, comí bien y barato en el restuarante Si B Moi ubicado cercá de la parada de metro de Badal, que está cerca al famoso Camp Nou. Nunca había ido a Camp Nou, y me dio ilusión visitar y ver dónde se juega mi equipo de fútbol segunda preferida. (Hablo más alto sobre el Barça que el València porque también soy super anti-REal Madrid, a quien le importa un bledo el València. ¡El Barça también sirve para fastidiar!) Estaba super emocionado y sigo esperando ver un partido aquí en el futuro. Todavía echo de menos mis jugadores favoritos, David Vila y Cesc Fàbregas. 

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Any trip to Barcelona includes a trip to the Barceloneta. My fave café, Ke, located in the heart of Barceloneta, was packed, so I went looking for other cool places located downtown after a windy stroll on the beach. I didn’t find any that really tickled my fancy though, as I was tired and getting headachy, typical for me with heat and lack of sleep. Cualquier viaje a Barcelona incluye una parada en la Barceloneta. Mi café preferido, el Ke, ubicado en el corazón de la Barceloneta, estaba llena de gente, y por eso busqué otro sitios en el centro después de un paseo con mucho viento por la playa. No encontré ninguno que me gustaba mucho, como estaba cansado y tenía un dolor de cabeza, típico con el calor y falta de sueño.

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Saturday I woke up on my own and decided to go to Blanes, a village located in Girona that is the gateway to la Costa Brava with a population of just over 40,000. The train station is located a good hike from the town, but for 1.85€ you can catch a bus. I opted for the hike and was unimpressed until I finally got to civilization, the town centre, and the beaches with their beautiful, crystal blue Mediterranean waters. My fave part was the Sa Palomera rock. The city has been the site of a few battles and more than a few storms (the most recent in 2008), so they have had to rebuild on occasion. I lamented my lack of time to visit the San Joan/San Juan castle on the nearby hill for more spectacular views. Sábado me desperté sin poner la alarma y decidí ir a Blanes, un pueblo de Girona que es el portal a la Cosa Brava y tiene una población de 40,000 personas. La estación de tren está lejos del pueblo, pero hay un autobus que cuesta 1,85€. Elegí el camino. No me impresionó hasta que llegué al centro del pueblo y las playas con sus aguas preciosas y azules. Mi parte favorita era la Roca de Sa Palomera. La ciudad ha sido el local de algunas batellas importantes y más de un par de tormentas (la más reciente era en 2008), y por eso han tenido que reconstruir más de una ocasión. Lamenté la falta de tiempo para visitar el castillo de San Juan que también debe ofrecer. 

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However, it was a hurry up and wait situation as the train back to Barcelona had a unprecipitated stop. A train just ahead of it had actually hit someone on the tracks. I’m trying to find some more information. Most people were complaining about the delay, myself included (it was about an hour and 20 minutes), but then I realised…someone probably lost their life, and we’re complaining about an hour. I explored Matarò a bit during this time and found it unremarkable, besides the beaches. I was impressed with my ability to take it all in stride this time. Sin embargo, era dar prisa y esperar porque había muchos retrasos por la vuelta a Barcelona dado que alguien era atropollado de un tren. (Sigo buscando más información). La mayora, yo incluso, estabamos quejado del retraso (era sobre una hora y 20 minutos), pero me di cuenta…alguien probablemente se ha muerto, y estámos quejandonos sobre una hora de retraso. Caminé por las calles de Matarò un rato y no vi nada super interestante, salvo las playas. Estaba contento con mi propia habilidad para aceptar todo con calma esta vez. Poco a poco.

 

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I’ve been trying to move to Barcelona for about five years now. I left Valencia in 2011 dreaming of Barcelona, and life took me to Madrid and then Bilbao. Will I ever end up in Barcelona? Who knows. Llevo desde 2010 intentando trasladarme a Barcelona. Me fui de València en 2011 con sueños de Barcelona. La vida me tomó a Madrid y después Bilbao. ¿Acabaré en Barcelona? Quién sabe…

Tarragona. Where Rome and Catalunya collide.

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It used to be a tradition to go to Catalunya every Christmas break, so when I went back to the States in 2012 for my first Christmas with family since 2007, I wanted my flight to be from Barcelona. I was adamant about that, despite living in Madrid. On my way back, I gave myself time to tick another province off my to-do list…Tarragona.

Tarragona is a city of 138,000 people located an hour or so from Barcelona. The province is the southern most of the Catalan provinces, and the capital city is famous for its Roman monuments. Most people think of Salou and Port Aventura when they think of Tarragona, but me being me, I think of the Roman monuments. I love the Roman theatre that is right on the sea.

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I only had one day in Tarragona unfortunately. These things happen when you’re rushed for time and jetlagged from the flight back from the States (like I am writing this entry two years later!). I caught a morning bus from Barcelona, where I was staying. My first impressions were that it was a typical city of the Greatest Peninsula in the World, nothing too exciting. That’s the problem with the areas around the bus and train stations. They’re interchangeable in most cities. When I got to the casco antiguo (historic centre), I fell in love with the city and its history. I bought a combined ticket to visit the most important monuments and had time to see 5 of the 6. I tried to practice my catalán, which at the time I was in my first year of studying; however, they responded in castellano (Castilian Spanish) so I went with the flow. There are also various old houses worth visiting. The day went by fast, and I had gotten the return ticket for too early. I could’ve spent a few more hours or another day exploring. As it is, there are many places in the province I would like to visit one day.

One thing worth mentioning, Tarragona is said to have the most expensive taxis in all of Spain.

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Tarragona Romana

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Known as Tarraco to the Romans, Tarragona still has many Roman ruins that can be visited today. I missed seeing the aqueduct 4 km (2 miles) north of the city and the Tower of the Scipios 6 km (4 miles) away. I also didn’t have time to see the Forum. I was able to see the amphitheatre on the sea, the circus, the capital/citadel, the walls and the Pretorium tower. Tarragona is one of the most important Roman ruins in the peninsula, along with Mérida in Extremadura and Cartegena in Murcia. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Catedral de Tarragona

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The Cathedral of Tarragona blends Roman and Gothic styles and was declared a national monument 110 years ago in 1905. Construction began in 1154 and the “new” cathedral began in 1331. It was restored in the 1990s. During the restoration, they discovered a temple to Augustus.

Reus (yet to discover)

The city name Reus (population 101,000) is said to come from the Celtic word “red” from “reddis/redis” which meant crossroads, or from the Latin word for prisoners, which meant it was a Roman prison. Choose carefully which tale you believe! At one time, Reus was the second-most important city in Catalunya until Tarragona and Lleida overtook it in the 20th century. Today it is the 9th largest city in Catalunya and has an airport popular with Ryan Air flights, making it a popular tourist destination. One of the sites of interest is a centre for the famous Gaudí.

Castells de Valls (yet to discover)

Catalunya is famous for its “castells” or human towers. The small city of Valls, population 25,000, is famous for both the castells and a green onion known as calçot. Although the castells are a staple of festivals throughout Catalunya, the ones in Valls are rather famous. At a calçotada, you can try recently harvested calçots and maybe see a castell.

Montblanc (yet to discover)

Located close to the Prades mountains, Montblanc is a medieval village of around 7400 people. The village is famous as the Legend of Saint George (known around these parts as Sant Jordi) and the dragon is said to have occurred here. Today Sant Jordi is celebrated in Catalunya by giving books and is connected to Día del Libro (Day of the Book) as it’s also the same day Shakespeare and Cervantes were said to have died. Today you can still see the walls of the village and take a stroll through the medieval streets.

Tortosa (yet to discover) 

Located on the Ebro River, Tortosa, home of 34,000 habitants, is the home of the Castillo de la Suda, an important castle dating back to Roman and Muslim rule. Tortosa was recaptured by the Christians during the Second Crusade. Today it is part of the Camino de Santiago del Ebro, one of the lesser known caminos. It also has a cathedral and magnificent views.

Salou (yet to discover)

 Located 10 kilometres from Reus and Tarragona, Salou is a major vacation destination for much of Spain (especially the Basque Country. I hear you can hear more Euskera (Basque) on the streets than Catalán during peak holiday seasons!) It’s home to many beaches and, most famously, the Port Aventura theme park.

Girona…a Catalán and Dalí experience.

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One of my favourite Christmases was the Christmas I spent in Girona in 2011. Granted, I left for the trip on the 26th, so I had spent Christmas in Madrid, but it’s the spirit of things. Everything was still decorated for Christmas, and Sant Esteve (Saint Stephen) is an important day in Catalunya. For those who haven’t heard of this amahzing (I’ve been watching Happy Endings, so read that in a “Penny voice”) place, it’s the province between Barcelona and France on the Catalán coast, la Costa Brava. Girona is probably most known for its beaches, but it also has some incredible sites in the Pyrenees too that I’m dying to explore.

My first time in Girona (Gerona in Spanish, but officially it’s the Catalán spelling and pronunciation Girona) was actually in 2008 for a connecting flight to Italia. I was still getting a grasp of Spanish geography at that time and thought flying from Girona to Italia would be a good idea when I was living in Andalucía. I still can’t believe I was ever so naïve. I came to the conclusion that it had to be a popular place for tourist in the summer based on this brief time at the airport.

In 2011, I had the chance to return and explore both the capital city and the province. I wanted to ring in the new year in Barcelona in hopes that by being in the city at the stroke of midnight, it would make fate transfer me to Barcelona. No such luck. I digress. This is Girona’s time to shine. I spent a few days in the capital city and making day trips to explore the beautiful province. I arrived via the night train from Madrid going on little sleep. Excitement and café amb llet (café con leche in Catalán) kept me going as I found the hostal in the city centre and began to explore the beautiful city.

The capital city of Girona has some amazing views. It’s located at the heart of four rivers with a ton of bridges (with a lot of locks on the bridges from young couples wanting to demonstrate their forever love, it’s a thing) and you can see the mountains in the distance. I remember walking along the walls and watching the sunset from high upon the old town near the cathedral.

The next day I did the typical trip to Cadaques and Figueres. The Dalí museums were a bit expensive for my budget, but that doesn’t change the fact these places are incredibly beautiful. No wonder they attract so many tourists year round. I walked along the coast for a while before having lunch and catching a bus to Figueres. I’ll be honest, for Dalí’s home town, there is not much else beside his museum. It is well worth checking out, especially for fans of him. (He is the only artist I can truly say I admire. I’m a book, music and film guy, and art goes over my head. However, Dalí seems to have experienced the same weird nightmares I do, so I can at least appreciate him.)

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The last day of my Girona experience, I went to see one of the most beautiful bridges in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. I am a great aficionado of bridges, perhaps because I love being around water so much. The bridge in Besalú is one of the coolest bridges, and the city has a medieval flare.

I have yet to return to Girona, but I am dying for an opportunity. The capital has a distinct northern European vibe going for it, and the sheer beauty of the area makes it a popular vacation destination. With so many interesting places, it’s easy to get off the beaten path. There are a lot more than just seven meravelles, but these are the ones that are sticking with me this morning.

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Girona

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Girona, the capital city of the province with nearly 100,000 habitants, is one of the coolest (as in American English for superchulo and not cold) cities in Spain. Located 99 km or 62 miles from Barcelona, Girona is well worth a visit. There are several churches, including a Gothic cathedral and old Roman walls. The city wall walkway is one of my fave things about the city. Any word of Catalán is more than well-appreciate here, as it is probably the most Catalán of the four provinces of Catalunya.

Cadaqués

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Cadaqués has a population of about 2000 people, but in the summers, the population can be up to 10 more than that. Its location on the Costa Brava and proximity to Barcelona make it a popular tourist destination, and it’s no stranger to tourists. Salvador Dalí visited often as a child, and Pablo Picasso also spent time there. You can visit the Salvador Dalí House and Museum today and walk along the coast. Fun trivia fact: the Catalán spoken here is more similar to the variant found in the Balearic Islands than the rest of Catalunya.

Figueres

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Figueres, home of 45,000 folks, is also the home and birthplace of Salvador Dalí. 40 km or 25 miles from Girona capital, the small city is popular with fans of the surrealist artist. In addition to the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí, the city houses a castle and a Gothic church. It is also home to Spanish and Catalán gay icon Mónica Naranjo.

Besalú

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Besalú may only have 2000 habitants, but it is an awesome place to visit. It’s located 31 km (18 miles) from Girona capital, and its main attraction is the bridge. It is a beautiful medieval pueblo and a step back in time. It could easily be on my own top ten list of beautiful pueblos (villages) in the peninsula.

Puigcerda (to be discovered)

Puigcerdà has been at the top of my bucket lists of villages to visit for quite some time. It’s a three-hour train ride from Barcelona, so I keep saying “próxima vez, próxima vez, propera vegada” (next time, next time, Catalán next time). It’s a village of around 10,000 people located at the very north of Girona, high in the Pyrenees, almost in France. I saw the turn off on my whirlwind trip to Andorra and vowed once again to visit there. It’s supposed to have some of the most beautiful views of the Pyranees. It’s 144 KM (86 miles) from Girona capital.

Olot (to be discovered)

Olot, home of 34,000 people, is one of the rainiest places in Catalunya, so much that there is a saying in Catalán: Si no plou a Olot, no plou enlloc. (If it’s not raining in Olot, it’s not raining anywhere). Perhaps the reason for this is because it’s located in the middle of not one but four volcanos. The last eruption was about 11,000 years ago, so chances are, it’s not going to erupt any time soon. We think.

Costa Brava

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The Wild Coast is one of the most popular tourist places in the Peninsula due to its good weather and natural beauty. Although the North Coast is probably more beautiful, it also rains 379 days a year here. Not an opportune time to swim or sunbathe, eh? Blanes, Tossa del Mar and Llobregat del Mar are just some of the many villages and cities along the spectacular Mediterranean coast.

Impromptu Weekend in Barcelona.

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Your regularly scheduled Set Meravelles entry this week is swapping places with Thursday’s entry (which may be up Friday instead of Thursday, busy week ahead!) to bring you an extra special crossing things off my bucket list report from this weekend.

Back in October, I had bought a Ryan Air flight to go to Belgium this weekend. However, that Spanish proverb is true. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Due to a strike (huelga general) in Belgium on Dec. 15, transport is going to be screwy at best, so I decided to postpone the trip until my week off in February and take off to the city that is calling my name, Barcelona, to celebrate my 33rd birthday in style. (Good thing, as my flight from Santander got delayed several hours and the flight back is all together cancelled, which means I might get the money back. With Ryan Air, it’s always cheaper to just book a new flight than changing the dates. Keep your fingers crossed!)

This weekend was exactly what I needed. On Friday, I visited the Pont de Diable in Martorell, crossing it off my Set Meravelles de Barcelona Provincia to do list. The village was meh, but the bridge was incredible. I crossed it and had a café con leche at a bar that took me back to 1980s Almodóvar films, then recrossed it. The views are incredible, and I could feel the spirit of the cat who gave its soul for the bridge’s original construction in the Roman days. Poor cat, but I am a dog person.

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Friday night, I went out to a great bar called “Museum” to celebrate the event. I so want to move to Barcelona even more now. Amazing ambiance.

Saturday I made a return to Sitges, which I fell in love with all over again. I took the time to pass its quaint streets and absorb the atmosphere. The gays, as usual, have good taste. (Sitges is a gay summer destination for those of you who weren’t aware, but it’s not just for the rainbow crowd. It attracts artists, creative types and tourists from all over.) It was a bit cool to enjoy the beach, but it was still much better weather than Bilbao is offering (at this rate, I think Noah and his arc would drown.)

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I also made it the famous Santa Llucia Christmas market next to the Cathedral of Barcelona. I bought a special present for my uncle, a caganer of Obama. If you don’t know what a caganer is, it’s a Català tradition to include one in your nativity scene. A caganer is a Catalán figure of someone crouched down in the process of using the toilet (number 2). I just hope they don’t confiscate it from me next week when I travel back to the States for Christmas!  The Catalans also have the figure of the Cagatío, who is figure made from wood with a Catalán red hat that “defecates” the presents placed inside him.

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The thing about this weekend is it has rejuvenated me in a way I haven’t been rejuvenated by travels in a long time. I fell in love with Barcelona again. The city is magical at Christmas time, even with temperatures of 18ºC/upper 60s F.

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Barcelona remains my dream. Maybe next year I’ll be celebrating my 34th from the Barri de Gracia…

Barcelona. There is a province too.

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Whenever I travel to one of Spain’s province capitals and am able to stay the night, I try to ensure that I have adequate time to visit one of the villages of the province. One of the writers from the important literary movement Generación de ’98 (I believe it was Ortega and Gasset, but I am not 100% sure on this. I don’t want to attribute it to the wrong writer, but I do know it comes from the awesome Gen 98 writers.) said the True Spain can only be found in the villages. This is so true, not only in Spain but anywhere you go. I am a hardcore left-wing liberal guy, but I know all the Republicans and even most of us lefties would agree that would agree that New York City has very little to do with the rest of the state of New York, let alone the country. Barcelona is an incredible city, but there are so many more treasures to be found outside the hustle and bustle of the city. Some of the places I’ve already discovered. Others require a car and/or more time, money and patience with public transport (IE spending the night in the village as there is only one bus a day!) than I have. At any rate, without having actually LIVED in Barcelona, I have to say I’ve done a bang-up job of discovering the Set Meravelles. 

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1. Montserrat

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The mountain, abbey and sanctuary have become as popular of a destination as the city of Barcelona itself. For those who want to be in touch with nature and avoid the tourists, this is not the place to go. However, it really is worth the hour train ride and the massive packs of people setting out to see this incredible place. Montserrat, Catalán for “saw” due to the edges that appear to have been sawed into the rock, is part of the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range and actually has three peaks, so it could be possible to go hiking and find solitude. Nevertheless, it is the abbey and sanctuary of the Virgin of Montserrat, reached by a funicular or the Montserrat Rack Railway. The train from Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona will leave you near the funicular. For me, despite the tourists (we know I like my solitude to get in touch with nature!), it is perhaps one of the Set Meravelles of the entire Greatest Peninsula in the World.

2. Sitges

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Sitges, 35 kilometres (21 miles) from Barcelona, has a reputation of being a gay and lesbian vacation destination, but there is so much more than the nightlife here. It’s a picturesque village on the sea with white buildings and cobblestone streets that could actually find itself at home in Andalucía. However, the natives would much prefer to speak Catalán than here “Sevilla mi arma”. It has 17 beaches, and it is said that 35% of its 26.000 permanent residents come from outside the Greatest Peninsula in the World. I found myself here by coincidence during a Carnival parade in 2011. There are a few museums, and for me, it is easily to imagine artistic and creative types finding themselves a home here.

3. Vic

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Vic is a city of 41,000 people located 69 kilometres (41 miles) north of Barcelona and 60 kilometres (36 miles) from Girona. It is a crossroads of sorts in Catalunya. The Catalán film (and the first film in Catalán to be considered for the Best Foreign Film Oscar) Pa negre takes place here, and it was an important focus during the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession. It offers a glimpse of the Real Catalunya and is a quaint place worth exploring. It also has a lot of old Roman ruins as it was an important Roman city back in the day.

4. Arenys de Mar y su mar

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A small town of 15,000 people, Arenys de Mar is a small city on the sea. “Arenys” is Catalán for Sand (arena in Spanish), and “Mar” is sea in both of the official languages here. The woman in the tourist agency was impressed with my Catalán, and this town is a place to practice your Catalán. For me, the best part was the hike along the coast. The tide was coming in, and at one point I had a choice of taking the boring sidewalk/pavement along the train tunnel or jump across the rocks. The tide won, so I had a very wet trip back to Barcelona.

5. Cardona (to be discovered)

Cardona was almost my village daytrip destination during my November 2014 trip to Barcelona. Located 90 km/51 miles northwest of Barcelona, it has a castle and a Parador. It is also home of a major salt deposit. Located in the mountains, the town of 5000 people seems to be a perfect place for nature and to practice Catalán. One day, one day…

6. Rupit i Pruit (to be discovered)

Rupit was another major consideration for the recent trip. 98 km or 59 miles north of Barcelona, the village of 300 people is located 800 metres above sea level. It’s one of the northernmost villages of the provinces and is extremely hard to arrive without a car. It would be worth the effort due to its natural beauty, medieval streets and incredible views. The best places are often hard to get to!

7. Puente de Diablo/Pont de Diable de Martorell (to be discovered)

The bridge between Martorell and Castellbisbal over the Riu Llobregat is an old Roman bridge originally constructed around the year 10 BC. Destroyed by a river in the 12th century, it was reconstructed with Gothic architecture soon after and restored in the 18th century. The Republicans of the Spanish Civil War destroyed it in their retreat from the fascists, but it was reconstructed in 1963 with the Gothic design of 1283. According to a local legend, the Devil himself offered to build the bridge overnight for an elderly Señora who crossed the river by wading daily. Of course, the Devil being who he is, would do it only in exchange for the soul of the first person to cross the bridge. The bridge was built overnight, and Satan awaited the Señora to cross the bridge. She came around with her bucket to fetch the water, but instead of crossing the bridge right away, she let a cat cross it first. The Devil had to be satisfied with the cat’s soul, and to this day, the cat’s soul accompanies whoever crosses the bridge. I knew I was a dog person for a reason! (Meaning…the Devil has cat’s souls? The soulless creatures once had souls? xD)

Barcelona. You are a dream.

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At the Lady Gaga concert in Barcelona at Palau Sant Jordi this Saturday evening (Nov. 8), the diva said something very true that hit home when taking a break from dancing and singing her hits.

You are a dream, Barcelona. A f****** dream.

It was in 2003 when I first visited Barcelona, and I have been there ten times now. I have had a lot of close calls with almost being able to live there, but so far nothing has panned out. I now have a B1 certificate in Catalán and am preparing the B2 next year. (My degree is in Hispanic Studies (Spanish), but I’d probably have a C2 if I had money to take the DELE). Everything about Barcelona is a dream. Despite being a city of over a million people, Barcelona has incredible mountains like Tibedabo and Montjuïc, and it has an awesome beach in Barceloneta (just don’t go there alone at night.) It is more international than the Spanish capital Madrid, as you can find any language being spoken here. I’ve read that Barcelona is the second most visited European city now after either Paris or London. It’s overtaken Rome (and the other city) for good reason. It is at once an extremely modern city with a very close connection to its past.

This trip wasn’t the best trip I’ve experienced. As so many other creative types are, I am prone to anxiety and depression, and I’ve been fighting a major bout with both for the past several months. This trip also coincided with the news that back in the States, my aunt (who is only 45) is in the hospital after a stroke. (Her prognosis for recovery is super good, but it’s still scary and worrying). It rained Saturday morning, the time I had set aside to explore La Ruta de les Aïgues close to Tibedabo. And there were problems with the pensión I was staying in. Great location in Plaza Urquinaona, but when it’s cheap, you get what you pay for. Runners who don’t speak Spanish, Catalán or even English. Yet they can find a job there, and me who is an English teacher bilingual in Spanish and halfway to being trilingual in Catalán can’t get jack? Yeah, it’s a bit infuriating.

However, I made the most of the situation. I got to visit a beautiful village (look for its write-up next week as I look for the Set Meravelles in Barcelona province outside the capital) called Arenys de Mar. I found a great new gay bar called Museum decorated like a Renaissance Art Museum (hence the name). I successfully avoided Les Rambles, that all-too busy street which can be overwhelming at the best of times. I did miss out on some of my favourite neighbourhoods like Gràcia, Barri Gotic and Born. But I’ll be back soon, I know.

Barcelona is a city that has something for everyone, even bitter, jaded, travelers like me! It’s hard to decide on only Set Meravelles for this incredible city. But I’m going to try! Try by cheating on how I write it up. Plaça de Espanya can be Montjuïc, right? I am dying to visit Poble Espanyol, but I haven’t yet, so it doesn’t make the list.

Set Meravelles de Barcelona Ciutat

1. Montjuïc

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Montjuïc is the mountain (or hill) right next to the port. There is a funicular that will take you halfway, and you can walk or take a skylift the rest of the way. It has a castle that was a prison during the Civil War where many atrocities took place. It offers stunning views of the city and Mediterranean. And it is also the home of Palau Sant Jordi, where I have seen Lady Gaga twice, the Olympic Stadium and the Olympic flame. It also is the home of an impressive (from the outside at least) art museum and if you climb the steps from Plaça de Espanya, you can see more incredible views of the city. I found out this trip that there is a water fountain show to the tune of Freddie Mercury’s “Barcelona”.

2. Tibidabo

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Joey Tribbani may not have actually hiked here, but it does exist. There are more incredible views, plus that Ruta de les Aïgues I’m dying to hike. There is also an old amusement park still in operation (but don’t expect Port Aventura!)

3. Sagrada Familia i Parc Güell (Gaudi)

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The Architecture of Gaudi is present all through the city, but these are the two most famous places. I’m lucky that I had already visited Parc Güell twice before as now I hear it comes with an entrance fee. I know Spain and Catalunya are in crisis and need the tourism money, but it is still sad that they will make a Euro when and where they can. The Sagrada Familia remains impressive and unfinished. I haven’t ever entered, but it is on my bucket list.

4. Les Rambles del Mar

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Barcelona built a cool shopping centre and a cool wooden drawbridge right on the sea. I usually indulge in a Starbucks and sit and people watch or sunset watch and daydream of a life in Barcelona with a decent job and a great husband and two golden retrievers. One of my fave places to visit.

5.  Barça y Camp Nou

Més que un club, Barça is a great football team. They have a great stadium I have yet to visit as tickets are about half of my monthly paycheque. Força Barça!

6. Barri Gotic i Barri Born

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These two neighbourhoods on the right side of Les Rambles are a fantastic place to lose oneself in. You can find the Cathedral of Barcelona, the Cathedral of the Sea (the one that Falcones book was written about), town hall and tons of chill bars to hang. There’s a reason why the tourists love it. I have to give these barris credit where credit is due. Picasso has a museum here too.

7. El Cementerio de Libros Olviados

One of my top 10 reads ever is La Sombra del Viento/The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. While I’d rather forget the third book ever happened, the Cemetary of Forgotten Books inspired me when I first read the book in English in 2007. I read the sequel in Spanish in 2008 (El Juego de Ángel) and was once again transported to the cemetary of Forgotten Books. On one of my 10 trips, I found a bookshop designed to be the cemetery (I like to think it is as real as Hogwarts (Hogwarts is real, right? I hate being a muggle!) in el Barri Gotic. However, I have only found it once. I regret never buying anything there. And I hope to find it again one day.

Note: I have so many much better photos of BCN, but they have been lost over the years. Darn.

Barcelona Part 3. Els viatjes 6-9.

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I will be returning to my favourite stomping ground for the amazing 10th visit from November 6-9 to see the indescribable Lady Gaga in concert for the third time. Barcelona is an incredible city with the world’s best fútbol team (Més que un club!) with a ton of history and culture and places to be discovered. To commemorate this remarkable occasion, I’ll be doing a series of blogs this week about my third favourite city in the world.

In the autumn of 2011, I was gung-ho on making Barcelona my home at anyway possible. They say that whatever you’re doing at midnight when the new year rings in will be what you’re doing for the first year. So I went to eat my grapes per the Spanish tradition of eating a grape for the first 12 chimes of the bell in the New Year in Plaça de Catalunya. You can’t get more Catalan than that.

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It didn’t work. I was sentenced to another year at a great school in a horrible (for me) city, Madrid. It was one of my best holidays, though, having experienced the beauty that is the province of Girona beforehand.

I tried booking a flight to Italia for my Semana Santa 2012 in Italia, il bel paese, from Barcelona. I had my AVE (High-speed train) booked to and from Madrid to arrive in plenty of time to catch the flight.

Guess what? There was a huge general strike in Spain the day my plane arrived, and by taking the bus after work, I would not be able to arrive in time to catch my flight. I was able to get my money refunded from RENFE, for the most part, but the plane was gone. I went ahead and went to Barcelona, somehow finding a pensión (though not one I’d recommend) with a free room that was at a decent price to spend a few days in Barcelona. I hiked Tibedabo and tried to avoid the massive hordes of tourists everywhere. Massive hordes of people give me panic attacks. It wa this trip when I began to realise that as much as I love Barcelona, perhaps it would not be the place for me.

I went back to the States for the first time in three years, catching a flight from Barcelona-Prat instead of Madrid so I could continue with the Christmas holiday tradition of going to Barcelona. I was sad I couldn’t find any “calendari de bombers” like Bilbao has and Valencia used to have. The trip to the States was uneventful, and I had my first of many last Starbucks EVER when I got back to Barcelona in 2013.

The next trip was to see Lady Gaga in concert in 2012. Lady Gaga is always amazing, even if at this show she was coming down with the flu and unbeknownst to spectators, was vomiting behind the stage.

Trip #9 was in September 2013. I remember finding myself at an event for Catalán literature near the Cathedral in Barri Gotic. They were so impressed with my Catalán abilities. This trip too was filled with too many tourists and not enough Catalans as my pensión was unfortuantely near the Rambles. Les Rambles is an awesome site and there’s a reason for the tourists, but when you’re wanting to practice your Catalán, Les Rambles is NOT the place to be. I was even greeted in ENGLISH when I entered a bar in the Barri Gotic. I then left the bar and found another close by that glared at people who spoke English or Spanish and was pretty damn Catalán-Only. I understand the need for English speakers in touristy places, but there are many tourists who are wanting to learn about YOUR culture and YOUR language.

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While there were some good parts of that trip, it was not one of my better trips to Barna. The city is changing quickly and I remember reading somehwere that it is currently the second most visited city in Europe after Paris, I believe. While the tourists provide a steady income to a country in crisis, this is creating quite a controversy amongst the citizens. While the rest of the comunidad autonoma is trying to find a way to make peace with Spain and become more autonomous and/or independent, Barcelona is in its own fight with itself. Should they welcome tourists and try to show their hospitable side, or do they withdraw to protect their strong culture and pride? It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future, especially as they put some finishing touches on the Sagrada Familia. The tourists aren’t going to stop any time soon barring an ebola outbreak (One thing Madrid can boast is that they had ebola before Barcelona. Barcelona still has yet to have their first case of ebola! There should be a sarcasm font there for those who can’t detect it :))

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I’m excited to see how Trip Number 10 unfolds. Coming soon, the unfolding of this adventure, 7 Meravelles of Barcelona City and 7 Meravelles of Barcelona Province. Stay tuned!

Barcelona, Part 1: La mevas primeras impressions de Barcelona.

I will be returning to my favourite stomping ground for the amazing 10th visit from November 6-9 to see the indescribable Lady Gaga in concert for the third time. Barcelona is an incredible city with the world’s best fútbol team (Més que un club!) with a ton of history and culture and places to be discovered. To commemorate this remarkable occasion, I’ll be doing a series of blogs this week about my third favourite city in the world.

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It was in 2003 when I traveled to Barcelona for the first time. I was a very young and naïve 21-year-old, about to have the first hostel experience of his life, traveling alone for the first time in his life, and exploring the streets of a foreign city on his own for the first time in his life. My Spanish level was a lot lower than I thought it was (I don’t even want to read any Spanish I wrote from that time in my life!) The memories I have from this first trip? I took a boat cruise along the harbour, climbed the Statue of Christopher Columbus, went to the Museu de Picasso and walked along the streets of Barceloneta. I fell in love with the Mare Magnum and spent a lot of time people (and hot boy) watching on the Pont Les Rambles del Mar. I walked a whole kilometre from Mare Magum to Plaça de Catalunya. I explored  the Olympic Stadium on Montjuic. At night, I went to my very first gay disco, Arena. I stayed up all night two nights in a row and barely slept.

As the sun was setting over Montjuic, I realised something.

I wanted to live in Spain. More specifically, I wanted to live in Barcelona. I loved everything about this city. It was love at first sight. And CATALÁN WAS THE COOLEST THING EVER.

As I was studying Spanish for a semester in Toledo, I would later be convinced that it was Madrid that I wanted to live in, the Catalán language was evil and the Cataláns were even more evil, and Madrid was where I needed to be.

They were totally wrong, and my Spanish dream became converted into Madrid. That Spanish dream turned into a nightmare for so many reasons.

11 years later, I am returning to Barcelona for the 10th time on the weekend some sort of something about something that I don’t think anyone in Catalunya can explain is going to take place on 9N (November 9) about whether they want to stay in Spain. The whole thing is illegal, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what is actually happening as it changes hour to hour. I’ll be on the bus back to Bilbao as the whole thing unravels.

The hostel I stayed in that trip is no longer in business (no big surprise there), and Barcelona has changed tremendously in the past 10 years as now you are more likely to hear English than Catalán or even Spanish in the streets. I find it offensive to enter a bar and be greeted in English when I want to practice el meu català. The city feels less Spanish and Catalán than ever and more international-could-be-anywhere do to the hordes of tourists.

I have never quite been able to make Barcelona my home. I now speak Catalán, I support FC Barcelona with all my heart, despite their treatment of David Villa grrrrr, and along with Madrid and Valencia, it is one of the cities I can say I have been to every year that I’ve lived in the Greatest Peninsula of the World. Who knows what the future has in store for me? However, thanks to the fact its new just-like any-European-city-due-to-more-tourists-than-residents vibe (I’m so anti-globalization and so KEEP YOUR CULTURE), if I ever to migrate to Catalunya, I’ll be more like to be in Girona.

I just did a look back on my private, for myself blog, which I’ve kept since 2001, and I found something I want to share. I’d like to believe my writing has improved some in the past 11 years. I know my Spanish and my travel skills have.

From Oct. 26, 2003…my first impressions on the capital of the Catalán world.

Last night, I was sitting at a gay bar in Barcelona, sipping my Barcardi Breezer Sandia (watermelon) that the bartender recommended. And I saw him. My dream boy. The guy I could spend the rest of my life with. There were sexier boys there, but sexiness is not the main quality I want in a boy. He was cute, definitely. He had the brown hair brown eyes (¡Era un morenito!) that is “my type” of boy. The more I watched him, the more I could tell he was what I wanted in my dream boy. Just the way he talked to his friends, his mannerisms, etc. You could tell he was quiet, intelligent, spoke Spanish (obviously), and had the qualities I would want in a guy.

I left without talking to him. Of course, what did you expect from me? Do I regret it? Not really. I would’ve loved to have talked to him, but he was in major conversation with his friends. (An excuse). Although I want a relationship really bad, I don’t want the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with to walk into my life right this second. I’m not ready for it.

Yet it would be wonderful to have him in it.

And Barcelona, you ask? It has replaced London as my favourite European city, and yes, after a nine-year ride at the top, has probably knocked Seattle as my all time favourite city. It was just amazing. Except for the prostitutes trying to pick me up on Las Ramblas. I could definitely live without that. I saw so many beautiful things while there, and I had a blast. I could and probably should go into details, but I don’t really have time and that sort of stuff goes into my travel journal.

I got to see a hot Canadian shirtless this weekend. Hostels aren’t all that bad.

I went out to the gay bars and discotecas both Friday and Saturday night. The gay salsa discoteca was probably the best one. I even danced there. If you paid 5€, you got a free drink and could go to any of the four Arena discos all located on the same block. The one Arena left a bad taste in my mouth both nights. I spent about 40 minutes crying in the corner last night for reasons I’m not getting into at this moment in time.

And this afternoon I woke up to a chico guapo de España next to me. Oh, don’t get excited. I took a nap on the train back.

The more things change….the more the stay the same.

Lleida. The undiscovered Catalán province

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When one thinks of Catalunya (no one who actually knows anything about Spain, besides George Orwell, will call it Catalonia), they will probably think of the capital Barcelona, the beaches of Girona, the mountains of Girona, the beaches of Tarragona or Salou and Portaventura in Tarragona (especially if they’re Basque.) They’ll think about the current controversy about their independence or the best football team ever, FC BARCELONA. (I am a bit more for Valencia, but I am also a diehard Barça supporter.) Dali will come to mind. But I doubt Lleida (Lérida in Spanish, but usually known by its Catalan and official name, Lleida) will be in the top 5 places mentioned.

Lleida capital is a city of about 140,000 habitants and can easily be seen in one day. It’s a bit far and expensive to do in a day-trip from Barcelona, but it makes a great pitstop along the way to Bilbao, Zaragoza or Madrid. It has a lot of green and a lot of history to explore.

As I love my undiscovered gems, Lleida had always been on my mind as a place to visit, especially in my quest to visit every province in Spain. In September 2013, I had my opportunity to visit the capital city on my way back from my annual visit to Barcelona. After struggling to find an affordable place to eat on a Sunday afternoon, I checked into a super nice (for the price) pensión. I think it was the Hotel Goya, but I’m not 100% sure. I dropped my stuff and went off exploring.

I first found the Seu Vella, the old Cathedral, which is a cathedral that was also used as a fortress, which is on a hill overlooking the town. The trek up here is worth it as it offers spectacular views of not only the city but also the country surrounding it. They also have the Seu Nova, the new Cathedral, which isn’t “new”, just newer, built in the 18th century. I later made my way through the Casco Viejo and took a stroll along the Riú (River) Segre. I remember watching dogs play and ducks swim in the river. I tried practicing my catalán as I could.

The surrounding province appeals to me, and I know of many places in the province I want to visit in the future. I think most of the Set Meravelles of Lledia have yet to be discovered. One day, when I’m a rich and famous writer, I’ll be able to explore as I wish!

Set Meravelles

1. Lleida

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Lleida capital is a small city with beautiful architecture, a river and tons of history. It is also your best bet to stay to explore the rest of the province.

2. Seu Vella and the Surrounding Hill (Lleida)

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Also known as the Castell (Castle) of Lleida, the old cathedral is a beautiful medieval building that took over two hundred years to build, from 1203 to 1491. It’s located on top of a hill that offers amazing views of the city and surrounding country. It’s part of the Route of 1714 that shows the most important historical sites of the War of Spanish Succession and the most important site of Lleida city (in my humble opinion). Felipe V used it as a fortress when the Seu Nova was commissioned in the 1700s.

3. River Segre and its bridges (Lleida)

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The River Segre is a tributary of one of the most important Iberian rivers, the Ebro, and flows through Spain, Andorra and France. There are many bridges that cross the river in Lleida that connect the two sides of the town. Like most cities with rivers, there are many pathways to walk, run, bike and allow dogs to play, and the river plays an important part in the city’s history.

4. Val d’Aran

The Valley of Aran is the only part of Catalunya located north of the Pyranees and they have their own language, Aranese, which they speak over Catalán and Spanish. It is home of many endangered animals, and the largest village is Viehla with 3000 residents. The entire valley only has about 7000 residents. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to explore (and write about) this valley. The comarca borders France and Aragón and is in the extreme north of the province.

5. Valle de Boi

The Boi Valley is another valley that is located in the northwest part of the province. It is home of nine Romanesque churches and was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. It’s also home to the highest ski resort in the Pyranees, It’s not far from the Val d’Aran, but it is smaller in population with only 2000 people in the valley.

6. La Seu d’Urgell

La Seu d’Urgell is a small town of 12,000 people located on two rivers, the Segre and the Gran Valira in the Pyranees. Close to the historic centre is a park built for the 1992 Olympics where you can still canoe and kayak today. It’s one of the biggest towns in this part of the Pyranees.

7. Cervera

Cervera is a small village of nearly 10,000 people located in the south of the province close to Tarragona and Barcelona provinces. It has one a medieval part and was once home to a university that moved to Barcelona in 1833. One of King Felipe’s courtesy titles is “Comte de Cervera.”